Tag Archives: silk

Amami Oshima Tsumugi Weaving

As a followup to the last post, I continue with the weaving portion of my trip to Amami.

On the way to Higo Dorozome Friday, I saw a sign that read “Oshima Tsumugi Village” so we decided to start there on Saturday. I didn’t realize until afterwards that this is where Jackie did her mud -dyeing workshop (we later compared notes). Since I had already done the sharimbai/dorozome workshop we opted for the basic tour and focused on weaving. They have a good but short tour of the weaving process but the real highlight was the addition of a weaving session on one of their looms where you could weave and keep a length of Oshima silk tsumugi. This was purchased at the beginning of the tour with the entrance fee.

Of course, the plain weaving of a piece of silk oshima tsumugi is a fairly basic process even for a novice. The real work as most weavers know, is in the preparation of the warp and the set-up of the loom. Oshima tsumugi takes this to new heights with its complicated pattern drafting, the precise dyeing of both the warp AND the weft threads prior to measuring and warping the loom. In addition, starch is also applied to the silk threads prior to “shim-bata” weaving as well as after the dyeing prior to warping. the starch or glue is made of specific types of local seaweed.

The process of dyeing the threads:
Prior to the late 1800’s, the threads were wrapped with banana plant fiber to resist the dye and form the kasuri patterns. Other methods, from various areas dyeing resisted threads for kasuri weaving, include tying and clamping the threads, but in 1907 two men from Amami in Kagoshima prefecture invented a new method. This consisted of weaving the warps and the wefts temporarily with cotton threads on a special shim-bata loom which resulted in more precise and complicated patterning as well as improvements in production quantity and quality.(The tightly woven cotton wefts over the silk warps resist the dye in shibori-like fashion.)

We saw the preparation of the warping threads-the weaving of the patterns from a precise draft of the pattern desired as well as the additional colored dyeing of the wefts post-dorozome dyeing. Apparently there are 28 (!)preliminary processes that take place in preparation of the actual weaving.
Once the loom is warped (we did not see that process) the weaving begins and the weaver takes over. The weaver handles the shuttles adeptly and quickly, stopping every 7-10 centimeters or so to adjust the threads with a sturdy needle and correct any errors in the pattern caused by tension issues, by adjusting the warp threads before continuing on.

I was sat at a loom and after a brief instruction in Japanese and (international hand waving) I wove about 20 centimeters of beautiful plain woven silk, alternating shuttles filled with a variety of solid and multi-colored silk bobbins. It was like magic! The finished piece was a simple striped pattern and the resulting cloth was very smooth and lightweight.

It really is amazing how the skills for this type of silk fabric came to be developed, practiced and cherished by the Japanese of Amami Oshima and beyond. You can really appreciate the very high prices of this fine silk cloth once you have seen it first-hand. You can read about it, see photos & videos, but to experience it first hand- even for a short time is precious. One of the weavers told me she had been weaving for over 40 years. She said that anyone could do it but that it takes 4 years of 8 hours a day weaving to achieve the correct quality as a weaver of oshima tsumugi. I actually thought that might be understated. I told her I have a lot of catching up to do!
The whole process is such a team effort and the failure of the materials or quality at any point in the process has the potential to ruin the work of all the prior steps taken by the other artisans to that point. Everyone is very focused on a good outcome.

A couple of other points to note- the silk used is not filature silk, meaning that it is not reeled from the cocoon. It is referred to as a yarn, meaning that it is spun from a silk like mawata.
Apparently, sericulture was (is?) practiced on the island but I did not get to see any of that this time. Further research ahead…
I’m interested in seeing how the silk used for the Amami oshima tsumugi is spun and prepared for weaving here, who does it, and where.
Another note- during our tour of the tsumugi village, our guide/driver Kounosuke tells us that his mother was a weaver on the island before she had children (4). AND that his grandfather was a dyer….he has lived on Amami his entire life and had not seen the weaving process before.

About the guided tour at the Amami Oshima Village:
If you are not there to do a workshop, the tour seems quite rushed. They have a specific amount of time devoted to each group before ushering them into the gift shop. I get the impression that there are a lot of casual tourist that go through there by the busloads in the high season. The gift shop does have two parts- the VERY expensive side featuring full kimono, full bolts of woven silk, obi, and various other very fine clothing items and also another side which is filled with fine but more affordable and smaller items- all beautiful and interesting to see.
Kounosuke told us that the high season is of course Golden Week, July and August (when school is out and workers have vacation time) as well as during the Hatchi-matsuri or August festival. He said that was his favorite holiday of the year in Amami. Our other guide who did speak English was Yui who grew up in Yokohama (!)and came to live in Amami one year ago after visiting it on vacation. It’s that kind of place.

Here is a photo gallery from the tour:

As before- there is a lot of video to edit so perhaps on the plane I will do some of it. To follow, the rest of the day tripping around Amami and then time traveling again back to Kyoto.

Other online resources:
https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/KQIy7n8uomYiIQ
this site gives a very good explanation of the tsumugi dyeing and weaving process by Kyoto Women’s University
https://kogeijapan.com/locale/en_US/honbaoshimatsumugi/

Amami Oshima

continuing tradition…

Wednesday’s post was long enough so I didn’t add specific information about the side trip I’m taking after the Silk Study Tour to Japan ends. Prompted by one of the tour participants who is researching the mud dyeing traditions of various cultures and locales, I was inspired to go and see this for myself and add to my Japanese textile knowledge. I will spend 4 days there learning and exploring the textiles of Amami Oshima.
Amami Oshima (oshima means island in Japanese) is the northernmost island in the Okinawan archipelago.

it is part of the Ryuku Islands

While the Ryuku Islands (and Okinawa) are well known for their Indigo dyeing and beautiful weavings using tropical plant fibers, Amami Oshima is known for its tradition of plant and mud dyeing on silk, often supplemented with indigo. Its beautiful and intricate weavings using the previously bound and dyed warp and weft threads are called Oshima Tsumugi.
This link has a good description of the process and terms.
Japan seems like it is filled with endless opportunities to learn and discover so many textile traditions and this is one I have not previously explored.
Interestingly, I realize I have already collected a small sampling of these textiles! I’ve seen them here and there in Japan and picked some up when the price was not too steep just to study and enjoy them. A sampling:

A recent video shows more of the process and the issues facing the economics behind weaving this very time consuming textile.
There is also a lot of indigo dyeing that occurs in the Ryukyu Islands perhaps in part due to its tropical and mild climate as well as the weaving of choice bast fibers, especially on Okinawa. I expect I will also see some of that on Amami Oshima as well.
I also read where they produce a special type of sake there using sugar cane…will have to try it!

So the fabric collections I will be putting together for you includes one selection that will be collected only from Amami Oshima and I wanted to explain a little bit more about what that was all about. You can see the various collections that can be ordered here in the shop.

I look forward to sharing my Amami Oshima adventures here on the blog in early June.

Life’s curves…

Another month comes to a close here.  We are getting some good rain again and are grateful.  A cold and wet day means a good day for working inside and cleaning up paperwork, posting online, and answering emails.

shibori curves… like life and the unexpected curves

first time student was patient and deliberate-guntai shibori

Unfortunately, one of those emails was accepting the cancellation of two spots for this year’s Silk Study Tour to Japan. This year’s tour has been the year of cancellations!  Never before have I had this many having to bow out of the tour!  Almost all for health reasons unfortunately.  What a disappointment for those who have had to back out!  Every time I have been able to fill in the earlier spots but now, here we are in the home stretch, having to fill in a couple of spaces.  Would you or someone you know like to join us?   This tour is an exciting and educational adventure into the textile world of Japan wrapped in the culture and beauty of the Japanese people.
What will you experience?

  • a visit to a traditional sericulture farm
  • a visit with an indigo dyer
  • entrance into the beautiful museum of Ichiku Kubota
  • a night at a resort hotel overlooking Kawaguchi Lake
  • tour of a Silk Museum (or two! Yokohama optional)
  • several nights at a resort spa ryokan (inn) with traditional Japanese baths and a lovely traditional Japanese dinner
  • two nights in Tokyo Ginza area with free time to visit museums,shop and a day side trip to Kamakura and Yokohama-optional
  • a stop at a kimono museum (if open)
  • a visit to an obi weaver
  • a visit to Tomioka Silk Mill (new World Cultural Heritage site)
  • a stop at a textile museum
  • a morning at the famous Kyoto temple sales
  • a visit to the shibori museum in Kyoto
  • visit the Amuse Boro Museum in Tokyo(optional) Sadly, this museum is closing March 31
  • a visit to a washi studio (handmade papermaker)
  • a visit with a modern sericulturist
  • tea ceremony
  • and any added invitations we may receive and accept!  (we already have a few!)
  • a workshop with a natural dyer
  • a workshop with Ton Cara-a silk processing and weaving studio
  • and more!
    Not to mention all the small moments that you will experience if you wonder and notice!This year (we always have repeat travelers as it is a trip that can be taken more than once), we have the honor to include once again, the author of the book American Silk, 1830-1930:Entrepreneurs and Artifacts,  by Jacqueline Roberts and Madelyn Shaw. This book details the history of silk production in the US and is a wonderful look at early entrepreneurs and the textile mills pre-synthetics.  I enjoyed it very much.
    Coincidentally, I met Jacqueline at a Costume Society of America convention many years ago when it was in San Diego (2007 or ’08). She had a table in the vendor room and I saw her book on the table as I passed by.  Of course I stopped and talked to her and bought the book.  It was several years later that she came on the silk tour and I recognized her name. I had to ask if that had been her I bought her book from and of course it was!  How interesting that our paths would cross like that!
    You can book the tour with or without airfare- ask me for the Land Only price. More info here. Single supplement also available. Please share with anyone you know who might be interested!

Silk Study Tour to Japan and the final days of silk moths…

I have been wanting to get to this post all week but, well…you know. Life, work, local politics, heatwave, gardening…need I go on?
Hope this finds you well and safe from heat, fire, flooding, typhoons, drought and in relative good health! Earth is challenging many!

First off, the update email for the Silk Study Tour to Japan has been sent to those who are signed up to go next year (May 2019).  If you are signed up and didn’t receive it let me know.  If you are interested in one of the remaining spots here is a link to the basic info and itinerary.

I previously covered my classes at the upcoming Houston International Quilt Festival and online registration is now ongoing.  Visit my website for the pertinent details and links.

We just concluded the most recent workshop at the Japanese American National Museum which was really wonderful.  They just keep getting better and better!  Returning students are really taking on more challenging designs and experimenting. New students jump right in and are encouraged by the returning students. We are now picking a couple of new dates to end the year. Will add to the website and announce as soon as they are finalized.

As I added the link to the JANM I just saw the upcoming exhibit  :Kaiju vs Heroes: Mark Nagata’s Journey through the World of Japanese Toys September 15, 2018 – March 24, 2019. This will be right up my alley since I grew up there from 1965-72! Yokohama tomodachi-let’s go! Natsukashii ne…

Anyway, back to the silk moths. The silk moths emerged, mated, laid their eggs and quietly died.  The eggs dried, turned grey and are stored in the fridge for now.   Here is a little video I put together about this stage. Even the local cat Toby helps out!

 

cocoons!

After six weeks of silkworm rearing, I have about 400 cocoons.  I started off with an order of 500 eggs, so here and there, lost a few.  There were no noticeable die-offs of any great number- a good thing that tells me I avoided any major disease issues by keeping the silkworms clean, well fed as well as in good temperature and humidity.  It can be a real disappointment when something starts to kill them off. I can only imagine what can happen to large scale sericulturists.

I stifled these today in the oven at about 180 degrees. This will allow these cocoons to be reeled or used in ways where I want a whole uncut cocoon.  With about 400 cocoons, if I let them all emerge I would end up with 10,000 or so eggs.  I can’t imagine having to feed that many here.  In fact, if I did allow the silkmoths to all emerge, mate, and lay eggs they would end up dying by starvation unless I put the eggs into cold storage.  I would never be raising that many here anyway.  I do have a few folks who wanted to get some eggs from me so I will save some for them.  I will store the cocoons in the freezer in a net bag until needed. These cocoons will be used in Houston for my mawata class there along with some I purchased from Nobue Higashi who raises silkworms in Japan.

silk,silkworms

I should not let you leave this post without paying homage to the life of the silkworm. Yes, I have killed them and have feelings about that.  In Japan, there are temples and shrines devoted to the silkworm or sericulture in general.  Giving thanks for a good harvest and for the protection of the silkworm until cocooning are common among sericulturists in Japan even today. Shouldn’t we remember to be grateful for everything? There are many shrines devoted to sericulture scattered throughout Japan.

It was perhaps not a coincidence that today I was catching up with Nobue on her blog that I read this post where she talks about just this thing…the google translate is very rough but you can get the jist of it. I am looking forward to seeing Nobue san again next year!

You can read about the silkworm deities at Kaiko no yashiro (蚕ノ社) – the Silkworm Shrine here. It’s an interesting story.
Next year on the Silk Study Tour to Japan we will add a short visit to this Shinto shrine. It is about 20 minutes by car from our Kyoto hotel I am told.  If there is not time to add it to the whole group itinerary, I will make time for those interested in a visit here in an early morning trip by taxi.

Following this down a bit further, I found an excellent couple of blog posts on this shrine.

-about the Kaiko no Yashiro (Silkworm Shrine)

-speculation about the triangular torii

-fascinating history of the Hata clan
part one

part two

I made another little video that covers the cocoon harvesting.

 

 

 

 

Event page update-classes in Houston

I am doing a little blog and website maintenance and am now referring the events page here on the blog to my new website event page which I will keep updated. Just simplifying basically.

The new listings there are the classes I will teach at the upcoming Houston Quilt Festival. Here are the classes I am teaching this time:
Please visit the website link above for details.

I already have received a few emails expressing disappointment that I am not teaching any shibori and indigo classes there this year.  I opted to not offer those to Quilts Inc this year as they have invited several others to teach the same topics in the past couple of years and quite frankly, it diminished signups for my class last year.  Unfortunately, one of those teachers that was directly competing with my class just didn’t show up last year (!) and aside from disappointing a lot of students, lower enrollment in my all day class, there was a lot of confusion about it all. I have to ship in and buy a lot of supplies for that class which is costly and I refer all students to other vendors for supplies.  This year, all the classes I am teaching are related to supplies I will have in my booth in an effort to offset some of the costs.

These are the “behind the scenes” decision making that has to go on to keep this dyers bills paid.  These shows continue to change and one must look out for ways to make it all work in order to continue to teach and vend there.  Many of the smaller one of a kind vendors no longer do. It simply becomes too expensive. We carry on.

That being said, I am excited to teach the three half day classes I submitted. As always, I will give it my all to provide a fun, rewarding, learning experience! Hope to see you there!

Oh, and we will be using some of the cocoons that the silkworms are spinning right now!

almost ready…

Independence (for silkworms)

Somehow sensing that this year’s Independence Day needed a sign, a signal, a ray of something, the silkworms picked the 4th to start cocooning.  Now, the 6th, many are involved in that seemingly magical process while the rest are casting about looking for some real estate to call home.
I’ve been working and watching them. Thinking about my own cocoon of sorts. If I were a silkworm I might not want to emerge for awhile.
The caterpillars will be in their pupae stage for about two weeks and those that are not stifled  will begin to emerge from their cocoons then. Stifled cocoons (where the pupae is killed by heat or steam) will be used for reeling and cut cocoons or cocoons from which the moths have naturally emerged can be used to make silk hankies or mawata for other textile uses.
I have two types of cocooning frames or beds. One is the cardboard frame type currently used by sericulturists in Japan and one is the straw bedding. I got them both out and cleaned them up before setting them up for the silkworms.

I’m hoping there will be some good news to share with them on the other side! 

A few more photos…

It’s hot here today-supposed to be up to 103 today and tomorrow. Drew all the blinds and keeping the house cool as long as possible hoping to not use the $AC$.  Our little cocoon for the next couple of days…at least until the sun sets at 8 PM.